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November 07, 2005

20 hours in Milan and ridiculousness of travelling – Part 2

Follow-up to 20 hours in Milan and ridiculousness of travelling – Part 1 from Tongue in Cheek

Okay fine, so it took a week until I carried on from the last post! Pah, not as if anyone reads this thing so as to care!

Where'd I leave off? Covered in bites as I recall… Damn they itched! So I wake up in the morning and go down to take advantage of the breakfast buffet.
If there is one thing my parents taught me to do properly it is to take advantage of free (or pre-paid) things, especially food. Having gotten quite tipsy on the way into Milan because of free drink on the plane and knowing that beer in the airport was on expenses I made sure I got my "money's worth". So at breakfast I made sure the company money putting me up in this hotel didn't go to waste. Many croissants, bowls of fruit and mugs of coffee delivered by the very attractive Italian waitress later I realised I should probably set off to the Hilton for the whole reason I'm here!

The taxi driver who picked me up was a very nice chap who spoke pretty good English (it was certainly better than my Italian which kept lapsing into French for some unknown reason). Got a good guided tour of Milan from the comfort of a Mercedes taxi cab. Did you know that the rivers in Milan are artificial "canal" type things designed specifically to import stone and marble to build the big cathederal there?

No, neither did I.

I'll skip over the details of the conference itself since unless you're interested in automotive engineering and the CAN protocol (with CANOpen as the higher layer protocol) in particular you'd find it painfully dull.
The conference in theory ends at 5, I have a plane to catch so I leave at 4, I get changed out of my suit. It has served me well around the Hilton (where the conference was held) and I've dined out in style but now I have to travel back and I'd be more comfortable in jeans and a scabby t-shirt. In the entrance to the Hilton I realise… Arse, I don't have my keys.
After searching all my stuff (emptying my rucksack in the reception of the Hilton getting some very disapproving looks) and not finding them I deduce I've left them at my hotel. Not being able to speak a word of Italian I ask the concierge at the Hilton to phone my hotel and ask if anything was found. I could've kissed the guy when he said yes.

Outside the hotel I meet the same taxi driver I'd had that morning, freaky? Hell yeah… I'd mentioned what time I'd be finishing and he'd come to pick me up (probably due to the 80 euro fare to the airport he could charge). After explaining the key situation and the fact that a cash machine would be required if he was going to let me leave the taxi alive we set off…

Never, NEVER ask an Italian taxi driver to "please hurry because I'm going to miss my flight". It is a silly suicidal thing to do and is likely to cause premature death and/or heart failure. The man drove at no less than 60mph in the city (at 5pm rush hour in Milan) and then 110mph+ on the motorway dodging and weaving his way through traffic. I have honestly never been more worried in someone elses company as when that taxi driver put his seatbelt on and smiled at me.

We got there half an hour quicker than the most optimistic tour guide had suggested was possible. I had ten minutes to check in for my flight. I tipped him. He deserved it. I had a stiff drink on the plane to clam my nerves from the drive.

The guy was so cool when we arrived that he gave me his card and said "When you come back to Milan give me a call and I show you more of the city", he was a genuinely nice guy. He must've also appreciated the 100 euros I just gave him (15 of which was a tip). I return to the good old (crappy) Midlands and back home and back to work safely in my own car. Think am going to have to go back to Milan and see it properly at some point, whether I phone my mate the taxi driver is another matter (I have his card). Of course luck (or curse) may bring me back to him in that damn scary car of his.

So be afraid next time you go to Milan (or indeed anywhere in Italy probably). Never ask the taxi driver to drive fast… he won't need asking twice.


October 29, 2005

20 hours in Milan and ridiculousness of travelling – Part 1

While I'm busy procrastinating from doing more DIY (I've already literally melted a hack-saw blade already though so I'm feeling pretty happy) so I thought I'd just write a quick entry about my latest little excursion.

Monday night I flew to Milan for some training for work (on an automotive communications protocol if anyone's interested! I didn't think so…), landed at approximately 8pm after undergoing my usual embarrasing searches and things at Birmingham airport.

I am not suited to air travel, I love the act of flying and I will still fight for the window seat at the age of 21 (but then again so does my Dad who is 56…). I just seem to have one of those faces that must scream



Every single time I travel by plane I get searched, not just a quick pat down but taken to one side and almost (but not quite) strip searched. Now I could've understood it with my previous passport photo, I had a #1 haircut and was wearing a leather jacket with a very sullen face on me… Not that I was any different a person then but I could've understood people thinking I might have been a bit of a thug (despite that being about as far from the truth as you could get).
Now however I don't have any "distinguishing" things that could mark me as someone liable to be carrying plastic explosives in his socks (or whatever else they might have been searching my socks for) but none the less even without the machine beeping I get frisked and questioned. The best occasion was in Manchester airport where both my Dad and I got called over to one side just in the waiting lounge after the security checks and were questioned for about 5 minutes by a man in a suit and looking very serious. He took our entire itinery, almost right down to addresses…

The thing that gets me is, are terrorists that stupid? Insane, bigoted maniacs yes, but stupid? I don't think so…
Airport Security Man: "Reason for visiting?"
Terrorist/Me: "Oh, assasination of your Prime Minister and maybe a spot of genocide if my schedule allows"

No, it just isn't going to happen. I applied for the RAF a couple of years ago and one of the questions on the security questionaire was, and I shit you not:

"Have you ever planned to overthrow parliamentary democracy?"

And then the real killer, "If yes, please give details.".

Bollocks, yes you've rumbled me – November 5th, under the houses of Parliament with an obscene amount of gunpowder… Damn these questionaires!

Okay okay, I'm sorry. I understand and appreciate these rules and things like that and I'm all for them really. I'd be far more concerned and have far more to say if I wasn't checked at airports. Questionaires like that just tickle me and somewhat puzzles me as to the rationale behind them. And anyway – do I look like a terrorist?! Is this the face of a man who you should be afraid of!?! Obviously hiding WMD in my beard…

Anyway, I digress – I was initially planning on writing this entry about just my whirlwind trip to Milan and instead wandered onto the topic of my bad luck at airports. So back to Milan!

I speak no Italian, not a sausage. Not even a number! When I attempted to speak Italian I ended speaking in French for reasons which still aren't clear to me. I wanted so badly to thank people by saying merci. I wouldn't mind but it isn't as if I can even speak French that well!
I managed to blunder my way from the airport to my hotel (a 40 minute train journey away) and manage to check in obviously due to my fluent Italian and nothing to do with the fact that everyone there speaks English…

No time to explore unfortunately because by now it is about half 9 and I've got an early start in the morning. Bed. Excellent. Hmmm… itching slightly, must be a mosquito in the room or something (first thing I did upon entering the room was open the window).
Woke up in the morning covered in bites, I stopped counting at 25. A guy at work later gave me the nice mental image of the possibility of it having been bed bugs that did it, nice. Cheers Paul.

Right, am bored now and need to make food! I'll probably write part 2 of this ever growing treatise tomorrow when I get bored of DIY, didn't expect to have so much to write about this!

October 18, 2005

When Ikea just isn't good enough…

What is it about the male psyche that when confronted with something that isn't good enough or doesn't do what they expect it to do, we have the urge to pull it apart and redesign parts of it so that it DOES do what we want?

I bought some under wall-unit lights from Ikea yesterday with ridiculously bright halogen lights in them. These things (in typical Ikea fashion) are magic. You can just clip together loads of them and power travels along the chain from the end and powers them all. Now you can also get a block that sits with them and gives you extra plug sockets underneath your cupboards! Cunning I thought, "It must be able to power the lights as well since the plugs obviously have power and the light plugs into it"

Plug the plug component into the wall, plug the light into it… nothing. Not a sausage. Interesting… Then I notice the cryptic hieroglyphics on the instructions that have a variety of pictures, some with crosses through and others without. Eventually I got the gist of the thing – the lights needed to be connected to a separate plug by themselves. Balls to that I thought; half an hour, a pair of wire cutters and a screwdriver later I now have power running straight from the socket!

Damn it, when I buy something I want it to work how I want it to work, not how they wanted it to work. Yes, yes, so the reason it was done was because the lights are on a 3A fuse instead of 13 that is on the plug socket but how likely is it that the lights are going to draw that much current!? And if they do, the fuse box will detect it and trip.

Of course this is just one of many instances where I’ve not been happy with something I’ve bought and had to hack something together to make it do what I want. But I’d rather do this and invalidate the warranty than “make do” with something not doing quite what I expect. How many people do this? Is it a male thing? Is it an Engineer thing? Or is it just me being weird?
Hacking things together is something I’ve always done and probably always will, it makes you wonder though why these products are designed in such a way that leaves people wanting more since the majority of people wouldn’t do this!

Tinkering is fun… house fires here we come!

July 22, 2005


Why sell two blends of coffee but label them in Swedish? What is the difference!?! "Oooh I'll have the red coffee today I think, I had the green yesterday". That is the only difference! Other than of course the different swedish word on the label :-P

And who the hell thinks of the names for products? And what do they mean? Are they random swedish insults or something? "Faktum" really means "you cheap arse bastard"

Anyway – we must do nothing to anger the Gods of flatpack… All praise Ikea

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